A stem cell hair transplant is similar to a traditional hair transplant. But rather than removing a large number of hairs to transplant to the area of hair loss, a stem cell hair transplant removes a small skin sample from which hair follicles are harvested.
The follicles are then replicated in a lab and implanted back into the scalp in the areas of hair loss. This allows hair to grow where the follicles were taken from, as well as where they’re transplanted.
Stem cell hair transplants exist only in theory at the moment. Research is ongoing. It’s estimated that stem cell hair transplants may be available by 2020.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to develop into different types of cells found in the body. They’re unspecialized cells that are unable to do specific things in the body.
However, they’re able to divide and renew themselves to either stay stem cells or become other types of cells. They help repair certain tissues in the body by dividing and replacing damaged tissues.
A stem cell hair transplant was successfully performed by Italian researchers in 2017.
The procedure begins with a punch biopsy to extract stem cells from the person. The punch biopsy is performed using an instrument with a circular blade that’s rotated into the skin to remove a cylindrical sample of tissue.
The stem cells are then separated from the tissue in a special machine called a centrifuge. It leaves a cell suspension that’s then injected back into the scalp in the areas of hair loss.
There are several different research teams working on stem cell hair loss treatments. While the procedures may vary slightly, they’re all based on growing new hair follicles in a lab using a small skin sample from the patient.
Currently, there are some clinics offering a version of stem cell hair transplants to the public. These aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They’re considered investigational.
In 2017, the FDA released a warning about stem cell therapies. The warning advises anyone considering stem cell therapies to choose those that are either approved by the FDA or being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application (IND). The FDA authorizes INDs.
These procedures are performed in-office on an outpatient basis. They entail removing fat cells from the person’s abdomen or hip using a liposuction procedure under local anesthesia.
A special process is used to remove the stem cells from the fat so that they can be injected into the scalp. This procedure takes approximately 3 hours.
The clinics that currently offer this procedure can’t provide a guarantee for the outcome of the procedure. The results, if any, can vary from person to person. It may require several treatments over many months to see results.
Some research has found stem cell hair transplants can be effective in treating different hair loss conditions, including:
- male androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness)
- androgenetic alopecia (female pattern baldness)
- cicatricial alopecia (hair follicles are destroyed and replaced with scar tissue)
Some pain following the procedure is expected. It should subside within a week.
No recovery time is required, though excessive exercise should be avoided for a week. Some scarring can be expected where the fat has been removed.
You won’t be able to drive yourself home following the procedure because of the effects of the local anesthesia.
There’s very little information available about the possible side effects of stem cell hair transplants. As with any medical procedure, there’s always the risk of bleeding or infection at the site of the sample and the injection. Scarring is also possible.
Though complications from a punch biopsy are rare, there’s a small risk of damage to the nerves or arteries beneath the site. Liposuction can also cause the same side effects and complications.
The research available on the success rate of stem cell hair transplants is very promising. The results of the Italian study showed a 29 percent increase in hair density 23 weeks after the last treatment.
The clinics that currently offer stem cell hair therapies not approved by the FDA don’t make any guarantees in regard to results or success rates.
The cost of stem cell hair transplants hasn’t been determined since they’re still in the research stages.
Some of the investigational stem cell hair replacement therapies being offered by various clinics range from approximately $3,000 to $10,000. Final cost depends on the type and extent of the hair loss being treated.
The stem cell hair transplant treatments being researched are expected to be available to the public by 2020. Stem cell hair transplants offer options to people who aren’t candidates for the hair loss treatments currently available.
While some clinics are offering stem cell hair replacement therapies, these are considered investigational and haven’t been approved by the FDA.